Before going into this, this isn’t about how great this film is for women, but an example of how low the bar is for the Bechdel Test. What’s the Bechdel Test? The Bechdel Test is attributed to Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist for the strip Dykes to Watch Out For. The test is brought up in one of the cartoons. Bechdel herself attributes the test to her friend, Liz Wallace. The test itself is easy. The Bechdel test asks if a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. The requirement that the two women must be named is sometimes added. That’s how easy the test is.
And now, here’s why The Fifth Element, a film which has only one major female character (it can be argued Korben Dallas’ mother is the second though she is never seen only heard), can pass this test.
Early on, there is zero interaction between female actors. It isn’t until Leeloo, a perfect being who is sent to Earth to save the universe (a plot which in its own right passes the Mako Mori Test), begins to take her role in the film. But even still, the conversations that Leeloo has with other women is 2 or 3 seconds tops.
The first scene is no more than 2 seconds, but it passes the test with flying colours. The boarding attendant asks who Leeloo is, Leeloo answers with her name and holds up her multi-pass card. There’s another scene later which is similar where Leeloo meets another flight attendant who asks her if she can help and Leeloo again holds up her multi-pass card.
Neither of those scenes have anything to do with a man. That’s how low the bar for the Bechdel Test is. But even then, there’s less than five seconds worth of film between two scenes. There’s a scene later where one of the warriors, shapeshifted to look human, meet the same boarding attendant.
Again, this scene took less than five seconds, but again it passes the test.
It isn’t until later in the movie where Leeloo is aboard the luxury hotel with Korben, that a longer scene between two women happens. Longer, yes, but I will say it’s maybe two seconds longer.
But that’s it, those few scenes are it. Keep in mind, I’m not defending this movie as one that is leaps and bounds for women in science fiction, far from it. This is an example of how low the bar is to pass the Bechdel Test. As I said before, this film could also pass the Mako Mori Test, which has the following guidelines:
- at least one female character;
- who gets her own narrative arc;
- that is not about supporting a man’s story.
Ultimately, it can be argued that The Fifth Element does eventually fail in this regard. But Leeloo’s story is clear; she is the one to save the universe from the impending evil. Everyone else is supporting her. But it fails in that her story is entwined with Korben Dallas’ story, which is basically just find the perfect woman. Who happens to be Leeloo.
There’s one more test that The Fifth Element passes. Still keeping in mind this isn’t heralding this movie as the example for others, just how low the bar is set. It passes the Racial Bechdel Test. Two characters, who aren’t white, who have a conversation that isn’t about a white person.
The above scene was between Ruby Rhod and his entourage, four of whom are black. They’re talking about how the recent broadcast went. The funny thing, this scene nearly lasts longer than all of the scenes where Leeloo is with another female character.
This movie is a prime example of just how easy it is, or how little effort has to be put in, to pass tests like the Bechdel test.
So why can’t there be more movies that do even more than just a few seconds in film.